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Chinese Motorcycles Flood West Africa


In the West African nation of Mali an influx of Chinese motorcycles is one visible sign of China's economic reach into the continent. Kari Barber traveled to the capital, Bamako, and takes a look at why one of sub-Saharan Africa's poorest countries is also one of the region's top importers of Chinese motorcycles.

Vendors estimate there are tens of thousands of Chinese-made motorcycles on Bamako's streets. A decade ago, there were practically none.

In congested areas of the city, motorcycles offer a way for travelers to avoid traffic jams.

A recent World Bank study shows that motorcycles were China's third-largest import to sub-Saharan Africa in the years 2002 to 2004.

And locals say the trend has not slowed.

Hotel worker Tiero Amara says his Chinese motorcycle offers him an affordable way to use his time more efficiently. "I use my moto to go to the house, go to work every morning, go back home, take my children to school. Often I have friends who do not have a means of transport and I loan the moto to them."

Dealers say the reason sales are so high is that prices are so low.

At one Bamako dealership, a new Chinese-made motorcycle costs about $700 U.S., less than a quarter of the price of a Japanese or European-made cycle and much less than a car.

Vendor Tidiane Goumame says his sales cut across all demographics. "Even villagers can afford to buy these."

Some warn that one of the effects of the market's rapid growth is that the streets are more dangerous. Taxi driver Moussa Coulibaly. "This does not help drivers. As motos become more numerous you have more people who do not know the road and do not know where they are going."

Despite their growing popularity, even the low price of a Chinese motorcycle is out of reach for many Malians. Traditional forms of transportation are not likely to die out soon.

But China's increasing influence is clear. Amara adds, "I want to thank the Chinese who made these much less expensive motorcycles to transport us poor. I thank them, and just hope they send more motorcycles even better and less expensive."

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